Thursday, April 15, 2004

Stupid EPA tricks 

The EPA released a list (.doc) of counties that are noncompliant with federal ozone standards. The regions with substandard air quality face penalties if they do not comply within a certain time frame, with sanctions such as the loss of federal highway funds. In addition,

The EPA said that the regions in noncompliance may have to impose new controls on industrial plants, restrict transportation and require tougher vehicle inspection programs to clean up their air. Some counties also may have to require the use of special, cleaner-burning gasoline.
Clean air is a good thing, and I don't really have a problem with the suggested compliance measures.

What I have a problem with is that a number of the counties listed are not the cause of the problem--they are recipients of other states' industrial pollution. Yet regardless of the origin of the pollution, the places where it ends up will be the ones held accountable.

Half the counties in Maine are listed, for example. Four of them, Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, and Waldo counties, are in sparsely populated eastern Maine, with little industry to speak of. They are not the problem, yet they will be held responsible for other states' bad air, which finds its way to the Maine coast and, due to ocean currents and prevailing winds, builds up there.

Acadia National Park, in Hancock County, is number five on the Sierra Club's list of smoggiest National Parks. As one environmental group says,

Maine is at the "end of the tailpipe" of all dirty power plants to the south and west. Depending on the way the wind blows on any given hot summer day, the Maine coast often records some of the highest harmful ozone levels in the East. Power plant pollutants follow the same routes down east that millions of tourists follow every summer, hoping to fill their lungs with fresh air and enjoy the magnificent vistas offered by Acadia National Park.
But the pollution does not come from Maine. This 1998 study determined the sources of air pollution on the Maine coast:

As shown in Figure 5-6, nickel smelting facilities in the area around Sudbury, Ontario, contribute the most sulfur to Acadia National Park (29 per cent). It is estimated that coal-fired power plants in the New York­Philadelphia area contribute approximately 15 per cent, while plants in northern New York contribute about 24 per cent. Midwestern SO2 sources -- primarily in Michigan -- contribute about 9 per cent.
Over three quarters of this pollution originates far from Maine. So the EPA is set to punish the wrong people if these coastal Maine counties don't see an improvement in air quality, and that's not right.
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